Jessica Day George

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Top 11- Middle Grade!

Middle grade books! Those unsung heroes! Those books that take a reader from "chapter books" to the heady realms of young adult! The books, if you will, in the MIDDLE of it all! Our #1 on this list was one of my favorites of the year from any genre, the amazing, charming, funny, heart-tugging, award-winning . . .

1. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead!

Talking about this book with Ann Cannon (author, bookseller, Hamish MacBeth enthusiast, and friend) when the announcement was made, she said that it reminded her of books she read as a kid, like when she read A Wrinkle In Time for the first time. I read it shortly after that, and had to agree! A delightful book from start to finish, I don't think the ALA could have picked a better winner for the Newbery Award!

2. Dragon's Heart by Jane Yolen

I have been waiting twenty years for this book. TWENTY YEARS. The fourth book in Yolen's Pit Dragon Series, which I read as a child (and reread, and reread, until my copies disintegrated), this is the perfect capstone to that amazing tale of dragons, slavery, and revolution on a distant planet. Also, Jakkin was my first crush . . . so it was nice to read about him again!

3. Secondhand Charm by Julie Berry

Another joy to read! I've never wanted a sea serpent before, but now it's on the top of my Christmas list!

4. Calamity Jack by Shannon, Dean, and Nathan Hale

The sequel to the trio's Rapunzel's Revenge is equal to (if not better than) the first, filling in Jack's backstory with rich detail as well as sending Jack and Punzie off on a new adventure! Fee, Fie, Foe, Fum!

5. Terrible, Horrible Edie by E. C. Spykman

A reread, but I'm including it because, after years of being out of print, this hilarious story of the mischievous Edie is back in a beautiful new edition from the New York Review of Books Children's Collection! I adore Edie, and hope that the rest of her adventures get the same treatment!

6. Matilda by Roald Dahl

I love Roald Dahl's books, and I love the movie based on this book, so I read it aloud to my son . . . and realized that I had never actually read THIS book! Hysterically funny, as Dahl's books are, and particularly fun to read aloud.

7. Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix

I had the very great thrill of speaking at a conference with Margaret this year, and once which I didn't realize she was also attending. Caught without my beloved copies of the Shadow Children series, I hastily bought the first book in The Missing series . . . and was hooked. Suspense in spades, and wonderful characters!

8. The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

Another swell New York Review of Books reissue, complete with the original illustrations. I had never read this book before, had never even heard of it, but it was wonderfully creepy and strange!

9. Three Tales of My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannet

This has been recommended to me, but I hadn't been all that interested. It's very young middle grade, so I read it to my son, and we both loved this story of a brightly striped dragon, and his adventures with a young boy.

10. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

A Newbery Honor from last year, this is a wonderful Chinese folk tale, further brought to life with gorgeous illustrations!

11. The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

What if a small child from a poor, backward farming community could fly? What if there was a top secret agency devoted to studying such children? What if? What if it was turned into a thrilling adventure story, complete with some of the best dialogue you'll ever find in a kid's book?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Top 11- Picture Books!

I love picture books. Before I ever had kids, before I ever WANTED to have kids, I collected picture books. Weird ones, funny ones, pretty ones. Then I had kids, and my criteria changed. Kids don't sit still while you read them elaborately drawn, overly wordy picture books. You don't want to spend HOURS reading elaborately drawn, overly wordy books, either. Suddenly David Wiesner and Sandra Boynton were looking like a pair of geniuses, when I had previously been mildly entertained by him, and condescendingly amused by her. Now, too, my picture book shopping involves a great deal of diverting my son from Disney and other cartoon tie-ins, and trying to entice him with, ahem, real books.

So here are our favorite "real" picture books of the year!

1. We Are In A Book! by Mo Willems

Willems' Elephant and Piggie series for beginning readers are simply wonderful: hilarious, charming, and a nice way to get kids excited to read. This is my favorite of all time: Gerald the Elephant and his best friend, Piggie, discover that they are characters in a book! Piggie entertains herself by making the reader say things, and Gerald freaks out when he realizes that the book will soon end.

2. Knuffle Bunny Free by Mo Willems

A tender goodbye to everyone's favorite stuffed toy. We laughed until the last two pages, and then we (well, ok, I) bawled over the ending.

3. Baby Happy, Baby Sad by Leslie Patricelli

Have a baby or toddler? Know about the constant mood swings? You need this book. My two-year-old reads it to herself and laughs uproariously. Then she suddenly becomes sad . . . and the rollercoast begins anew.

4. It's A Book! by Lane Smith

Not really for kids, because of the inappropriate punch line, but a hilarious look at our sadly plugged in youth.

5. Olivia Goes to Venice by Ian Falconer

And Venice will never be the same!

6. Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated) by Florence Parry Heide and Lane Smith

A charming fairy tale about a young princess with an unusual problem. It also stars a redhaired boy called Boy, which makes my redhaired Boy feel like a star!

7. Your Personal Penguin by Sandra Boynton

Who doesn't want their own personal penguin? My daughter certainly does! Also, check out Davy Jones singing the song on YouTube for extra fun!

8. Red Sings From Treetops: A Year In Color by Joyce Sidman and Pamela Zagarenski

A Caldecott Honor book from last year, with gorgeous and vaguely European looking illustrations and a fascinating way of helping children associate the different seasons with their signature colors.

9. The Twelve Bots of Christmas by Nathan Hale

I'm not just saying this because he's a personal friend, I swear: Nathan Hale is a picture book GENIUS. Every one of the books that he has written and illustrated has become an instant favorite of my son's. Yellowbelly and Plum Go to School, The Devil You Know, and now this one. After one (ONE!) reading, my son could sing the entire song, and went around doing so all during Christmas. He loved it, and I loved it. My husband loved it. My daughter loved the pictures, but threw things at anyone who tried to sing it. (That's because she throws things at anyone who sings, though.) This is a new Christmas classic, at least in our robot loving household!

10. Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

Neil Gaiman does indeed have some crazy hair. Google the man and see for yourself. But the combination of Gaiman's poem about his hair (begun as a present for one of his daughters, who calls him Mr. Crazy Hair), combined with McKean's wild illustrations, is beyond crazy and approaching sublime.

11. The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren

Like the average American, I'm mostly familiar with Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking, though I did love Ronia Robber's Daughter as a child. Last year I discovered that this beautiful picture book existed, and received a copy for Christmas. Gentle watercolors combined with a hushed and comforting story about the kind little gnome who cares for a snowbound farm filled me with such a sense of warmth and love that I had trouble not crying while I read it to my son. (Yes, yes, I know I even cry over Knuffle Bunny, but seriously, this is a beautiful book.)

Honorable Mentions go to Binky, The Birthday Box, and Tubby by Leslie Patricelli, Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems, and the gorgeous Cinderella retold by Cynthia Rylant.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Technical Difficulties- FIXED!

First off, my humblest apologies to anyone who has tried to email me through my website for the past, um, three months or more. Seriously. HUMBLEST APOLOGIES. We don't know how it happened, or why, but about three months ago when we updated the site (and by "we", I mean: my husband, but he's not solely to blame, and I'll explain why in a sec), something happened. Whatever that something was (I don't know, because I think email is delivered by fairies), it blocked any emails that came through the website. So if you sent me a nice message in that little "contact Jessica" message box thingie, I didn't get it. We don't know where it went, but it didn't come here, and it didn't notify you that it was blocked either. I am very, very sorry.

And this is why my husband isn't entirely to blame: I didn't notice. For three months. At least. One day I'm getting a steady stream of emails, the next day nothing. And it takes me months to say, to the person that I LIVE WITH, Hey, I'm not getting any emails from the site, could you take a look? It's not that I'm stupid (really, it's not!), it's not that I'm THAT busy (those of you who follow me on Twitter know I do have SOME free time), it's actually this:

I am an author, and we are insecure.

Yep. You guessed it. I have seriously thought that what was largely fan mail dried up overnight because I suddenly had no fans. Or people reading my books. I have seriously been thinking, Well, I had a good run. I got some cute emails from kids that loved my books, some rocking high fives from librarians and adult readers, it's time to go away now . . .

Yep. We're THAT insecure.

So my husband fixes the email thingy today, with the greatest of ease, because he is awesome (and sent a message through the site saying he was awesome, in case I didn't notice). And I've already gotten two other emails.

Which means two very nice things:

The email dealie on my website is working.

I don't suck!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Top 11- Part 1: Movies!

Because it's 2011- in short: the FUTURE!- I have decided to not just do one big post of my top tens of the year, but to do several weeks of posts in which I give you top ELEVEN picks in movies and books! YAY! Aren't I nice? (Yes. Yes I am.)

So we'll start off with movies, because I am still mulling my book lists and how I want to divide them up and such (All adult books together? Separated by genre? It's a puzzler!), we'll start with movies, simple and straightforward. We have two small kids, so we only go to movies if a)the kids can come or b)we REALLY want to see it. (Or, actually, c) we REALLY need a night away from the kids.) Some of you are wondering, too, why an author is putting up her movie picks. Well, you see, kids, I am a big movie fan. I minored in theatre & film briefly in college, and have taken film classes since high school. I also used to do review movies on an amateur movie review site called along with my husband and a few of our discerning friends. So, in short, I think I'm pretty awesome when it comes to separating the winners from the duds. I mean, I've seen The Umbrellas of Cherbourg AND Woman in the Dunes! (I really, really cannot express my hatred of Woman in the Dunes enough, by the way. Though I believe it is exceeded by my hatred of La Strada. Also Mac and Me.)

Oh, and here's my little disclaimer: not all of these movies are suitable for all audiences. Please check the ratings and consider your own age/personal tastes before viewing. These are just my favorites, they may not be yours.

And so, without further babble . . .

Jessica's Top ELEVEN Movies of 2010!

1. True Grit (The DIALOGUE! Oh, the DIALOGUE!)
2. How To Train Your Dragon (A classic hero's journey, with humor, pathos, and great animation. Also: a dragon movie that doesn't suck! Wahoo!)
3. Toy Story 3 (This movie brought me to tears at least four times. And I'm not ashamed of that.)
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (The first of the Harry Potter movies that, frankly, could have stood alone as a great movie without the book fandom to support it.)
5. Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton's bizarro sequel to the original story was creepy and fun and bizarre . . . the acting is as delightful as the craziness.)
6. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (It's literally a graphic novel come to life. Or a graphic novel, video game, and anime film mashed together . . . )
7. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Great cast, fun settings/costumes, and it's hands down the best of the Narnia films.)
8. Tron: Legacy (I'm a big nerd, a huge fan of the original film, and a huge fan of Jeff Bridges. What's not to love?)
9. Inception (An amazing achievement in writing and filmmaking. But it's low on the list because . . . well, after a long day, what would YOU rather watch? Johnny Depp being weird as the Mad Hatter, or Leonardo DiCaprio feeling bad about his wife? Uh huh, thought so.)
10. The Millenium Trilogy: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, the Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest (Difficult to watch because of the graphic nature of the violence in the first film, but nevertheless a riveting and amazingly faithful adaptation of the bestselling books. The lead characters are so perfectly cast that I can't imagine how the Hollywood version attempt to improve on them!)
11. Tangled (A charming fairy tale in the classic Disney style! Both my kids were hooked, and so was I!)

What were YOUR favorite movies this year?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Resolutions!

Remember that weird fad for a while, about not making New Years resolutions? Apparently, we are all doomed to fail, gain more weight, lose our jobs, and be generally miserable if we do. I don't buy this. A new year just FEELS good, and seems like a great time to start afresh. The orgy of eating that is Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas is over, so why NOT try to lose a little weight? My husband has a fresh slate of vacation days, so why not plan a trip? Let's face it, we're all assessing what we've done in 2010, and thinking about what we're going to do in 2011, so why not go ahead and do some resolvin'?

I'll go first!

In 2011, I am going to:

Get up earlier!

-I've fallen into the very bad habit of staying up late reading, and then sleeping in as long as the kids will let me. Which means that by the time I stagger out of bed, get everybody fed and dressed, it's almost time for lunch! Eeek! So I'm going to go to bed on time, and get up with the Hubster at (double eek) 6:30 and get going!

Lose weight!

-I've fallen into yet another very bad habit: snacking with the kids. Having a toddler and a weedlike six-year-old means an endless supply of goldfish crackers and such things lying about. I'm eating waaaay too many of them myself!

Read more books!

-In 2010 I only read 141 books! What's up with that?! I have an ever-growing pile of books to read, and books that I want to reread! Maybe if I spent less time noodling around on the internet . . .?

Write more books!

-Or at the very least: get more writing time! Having the two aforementioned kids running amok all day has really cut down on my writing time. I need to get the kids on a better schedule (see aforementioned wake up early resolution) and try to get some more time to work! (Possibly this will involved throwing the children at my husband when he gets home one or two nights a week. Must discuss with him.)

Go on more dates!

-The hubby and I need to have some more date nights! Especially if I am planning on turning the kids over to him one or twice a week so that I can write!

Learn to cook!

-Okay, technically I do know how to cook. And I'm not bad, either. I've even taken some of those Wilton cake decorating courses, and I collect character shaped cake pans. But I have a tendency to not plan meals well, and end up making the same two or three easy (and not very healthy) things every week. (See earlier resolution about losing weight, too!) I've got some great cookbooks (and for Christmas I got the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook and Chocolate Never Faileth, both of which are awesome!), and I just need to do some planning, shopping, and make a little time to actually cook some good meals. (And the occasional great dessert.)

There! How does that look? I think it's a fine list of fully achievable goals for this year!

And how about you all? What would you like to see happen in 2011?